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Recap: Panthers 17, Buccaneers 3

Posted Oct 29, 2017

Carolina defeats Tampa Bay on the road to earn important division victory.

TAMPA, Fla. - Points were at a premium as the Carolina Panthers defense kept the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of the end zone and came up with three takeaways to spearhead a 17-3 victory.

“A lot of positive things,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “We did some good things in all three phases, I thought the guys played well – offense, defense and special teams. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win.”

All season long, Rivera has stressed the importance of starting fast. After not scoring a touchdown in the first quarter since the opener at San Francisco, Carolina ended the drought. The Panthers had to convert on third down five times, but ultimately running back Jonathan Stewart took flight over the offensive line to cap off the 17 play, 82-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown rush – his first rushing touchdown of the season. 

The Panthers added a second touchdown in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Cam Newton followed his 20-yard scamper - the longest rush of the day - with a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on third down. The 6-foot-5 receiver boxed out rookie cornerback Justin Evans to reel in the jump ball for his second touchdown of the season.

“He made an unbelievable play,” Newton said of Benjamin’s touchdown. “I’m sure he doesn’t want me to share it, but it’s extremely tough for him right now going through a stage – his first time playing in Florida with the loss of his mom. I was praying for him all game.”

The defense took over from there. The unit received criticism entering the game for the lack of takeaways this year, but nearly matched their season total Sunday. The defense forced three turnovers – two interceptions and one fumble.

“The defense played exceptional,” Newton said. “It’s great to have Luke (Kuechly) back out there. They created so many turnovers that we needed as a team, for the morale, and they played very stingy.”

Defensive end Julius Peppers started the day tallying sack No. 151 while forcing a fumble that safety Kurt Coleman recovered in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, safety Mike Adams and Kuechly – who returned after missing one game – each intercepted quarterback Jameis Winston.

“It was very good to watch (Kuechly and Coleman) get out there and make plays,” Rivera said. “You do miss players like that, guys who make plays. Not just making the tackles themselves, but putting other people in position to make plays.” 

As a whole, the defense solidified its standing as one of the best in the league, limiting the Buccaneers to 279 yards of total offense – a season low for Tampa Bay and on par with Carolina’s average.

In between the touchdowns, Graham Gano added a 28-yard field goal. Questionable entering the game, Gano and is now 16-of-17 this season.

“It’s a one-week mentality,” Newton said. “We just want to find ways to be 1-0 by the end of Sunday. With that mentality, that got us a win today.”